Acting Police Chief Joseph Vasco says he is "thoroughly disgusted" with Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan's delaying tactics in naming a new chief.
Vasco, who for months was considered a frontrunner for the post and was abruptly dropped from consideration by Hogan, said in an interview the county executive's long search for a new police chief has demoralized the department.
"This is not my style," Vasco said, "but the time to be a good soldier is over. I cannot sit back and watch what is happening to the Prince George's County Police Department."
Sources, who asked not to be identified, also said Vasco has quietly realigned the top ranks of his department despite Hogan's orders to hold up reorganization until the appointment of a new chief.
Vasco, who has served as acting chief since Hogan appointed him June 30, declined to comment on the reported top-level changes but said he is "sick and tired" of waiting for Hogan to act.
One source said Vasco considered the changes "the minimum necessary to keep the department functioning." Others said the acting chief's actions reflect a growing irritation among the ranking officers and their displeasure with Hogan's stated preference for bringing in someone from outside the department.
Vasco admitted he was disheartened about being taken out of the running even after Hogan told him that he had done an outstanding job as acting chief.
"I am continually told that I cannot do the same job I am presently doing if I were made the permanent chief," Vasco said. "It is difficult for me to understand such a fine distinction."
Hogan said there was a distinction, "but I don't think it does anyone any good to air it in the public press. There are other considerations."
In announcing that he wouldn't name Vasco, Hogan said public suspicion that the department veteran participated in a police "death squad" a dozen years ago meant Vasco would start out as police chief "with two strikes against him."
The Washington Post reported allegations in February that Vasco helped arrange convenience store holdups in which two suspects were fatally shot by police. According to a fellow officer and a former police informant, Vasco chose the time and place of the suspects' holdups and arranged for police to stake out the targets.
Vasco had denied the allegations and said Hogan's statement "indicted me, tried me, convicted me long before any sort of report has been made." A state police investigation of the allegations is under way.
Vasco said he believed the real reason Hogan did not want him as police chief was that Hogan wanted someone he could control. Hogan said last week and reiterated in an interview yesterday that regardless of who is chief, Hogan can "pull his chain" because the county executive is "boss."
"He doesn't know what the hell he is saying," Vasco said after Hogan's remarks were first published. "I don't know what is wrong with him. He would be hard pressed to find a professional law enforcement officer to accept the role of police chief after he had labeled that position as a toy, a plaything. Whoever accepts this role, he has rendered that person totally ineffective."
Hogan is said to be considering six candidates for the chief's post, five of them outsiders and one, Maj. Rice Turner, a department veteran who serves directly under Vasco.
Vasco said Hogan's inclusion of Turner as a candidate was "nothing more than a political ploy to create animosities and confusion" within the department.
At a staff meeting last week, Vasco warned high-level police officials that internal bickering about who was in control of the department could "permeate to lower ranking officers" who might be uncertain of where orders were coming from.
"There is a war going on," said one source, "with ramifications greater than simply who will be police chief. It is: who will the chief be paying attention to?"
Hogan has indicated he would prefer someone from outside the department, but the county council, which must approve his choice, has indicated support for an officer from within.
"We have a department that has solved its problems," said David Hartlove, vice chairman of the council. "As far as I am concerned, Vasco is not acting, he is the chief."
The local police union also favors an insider.